Carl Savit

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Carl Savit
Carl Savit headshot.gif
Latest company Western Geophysical
President year 1972
Membership Life Member
BSc Physics
MSc Mathematics
BSc university California Institute of Technology
MSc university California Institute of Technology

Carl H Savit (19 July 1922 - 21 March 1996) an American geophysicist. He was born in New York City on 19 July 1922 and earned a B.S. in mathematics and physics, and an M.S. in mathematics at the California Institute of Technology. He also completed three additional years of graduate study at Cal Tech, and was a teaching fellow at Cal Tech for four years.

During World War II he was statistical consultant to the U.S. Air Force and USAF project officer in upper-atmosphere physics research.

Savit's career at Western Geophysical began when he was hired as a chief mathematician. He served as head of Western's mathematics research department until 1961, when the department was renamed Systems Research and Development and he was designated its director. As the company and his department expanded, he was promoted in 1965 to vice-president, Systems Research and Development. In the early 1970s Savit, on a leave of abscense, served as assistant to the U.S. President's science advisor for earth, sea and air in the Nixon administration.

Carl Savit was served as President of SEG in 1972, was a recipient of the Virgl Kauffman Medal Award in 1979.

Carl Savit passed away on 21 March 1996. He was survived by his wife of 49 years, Sandra Kaplan Savit; children Mark N. Savit and wife Kim, Deborah Joan and husband Andrew Pearlman, Judy Savit and husband Larry Simon; grandchildren Joshua Savit, Micah Pearlman, Darcy Savit, Adina Pearlman, Zachary Savit, Jessica Simon, Cela Pearlman, Kyle Simon; a host of friends and relatives.

Details of Mr. Savit's illustrious career and contributions to exploration geophysics are described in the materials that follow.

Carl Savit Memorial by Rhonda Boone of Western Atlas Oilfield Services

(appeared in JULY 1996 THE LEADING EDGE)

For almost 50 years, the name Carl Savit was nearly synonymous with geophysics. He was one of the industry's most distinguished experts, serving as lecturer, writer, editor, negotiator, diplomat, and spokesman. He paved the way for scientists behind him and cleared the view for those in front him. His vision bordered on the uncanny and his experience encompassed the best of solid science and grounded intuition.

Born in New York City, Carl earned a B.S. (cum laude) in mathematics and physics and an MS. in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, where he also completed three additional years of graduate study in advanced math and was a teaching fellow for four years. During World War II, he was statistical consultant to the U.S. Air Force and USAF project officer in upper-atmosphere physics research.

Carl's career with Western began in 1948 when he was hired as a mathematician in Los Angeles, Western's original headquarters, and spent six months on a crew in California in order to get field experience.

"My first recollection of anything about Carl was receiving a document signed by him as chief mathematician," says former Western President Neal Cramer. "It was an odd title, but one he carried for many years. In those days, Carl was busy creating such things as velocity slide rules and circular dip migration templates....Life was simple then." According to Cramer, Carl also served as "Western's conscience in matters scientific - a one-man department.

"When I first started traveling foreign in the 1950s, Western was hardly a household name even in our industry," Cramer said. "Imagine my surprise making a cold call in some faraway place only to have the resident geophysicist remark 'Oh, that's the company Carl Savit is with, isn't it?' His name and fame were already percolating through the industry:

Carl served as head of the mathematics research department until 1961 when the department was changed to Systems Research and he was designated its director. As the company and his department expanded, he was promoted in 1965 to vice-president, Systems Research and Development. After Western moved its headquarters to Houston, Carl took a leave of absence to serve as assistant to the U.S. President's science advisor for earth, sea and air in the Nixon administration. "During those days in Washington, Carl learned first-hand how things got done in the morass inside the beltway," said Cramer. "When he returned to Western, he brought this canny knowledge to us and the rest of the oil industry. He became an e-officio spokesman for our group and served as an expert witness in crucial matters being debated in Washington.

"He developed to a tine art the ability to confront a bureaucratic obstacle, then rearrange our tactics so that a potential disaster was transformed into an inviting opportunity,"

Cramer continued. "As regulatory fever burst into wildfire during the '70s and '80s, most of Carl's time was spent handling these matters."

After returning to Houston and Western, Carl was named senior vice-president, Technology. By now he was extremely him. His vision bordered on the uncanny and his experience busy, being called to testify before congressional committees and serve on a variety of government panels, boards, and committees. He served on a number of panels pertaining to the geophysical industry and was becoming fairly famous in the industry circles.

A partial list of his career highlights includes: President and Honarary Member of the SEG, chairman of NOIA, and chairman of IAGC where he was presented the first-ever award of distinguished achievement. He was appointed member of the National Academy of Engineering and was awarded the Marine Technical Society's Compass Distinguished Achievement Award. He received the SEG's Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal Award and Litton's Advanced Technology Award. He was editor of GEOPHYSICS and the fourth edition of the classic Introduction to Geophysical Prospecting. By the time of his retirement in 1986, he held 42 patents.

As an employee and an officer, Carl's impact on Western was very powerful. Both Neal Cramer and long-time friend Frank Levin attribute to Carl two major contributions to the company. One was that he foresaw that digital recording and processing of seismic data was the future of exploration geophysics and he made sure Western was ready. As the digital revolution invaded the industry, "most of us at Western were swimming or drowning in the dark unchartered water," says Cramer. "As our one-man scientific department, Carl kept us from making critical mistakes that could have threatened our survival. Instead, we were able to turn this invading monster into a wonderful business opportunity." The second major contribution was that he "attracted to Western a remarkable group of men and women, including many who became prominent contributors to our science," Levin said.

"Near the end of the 1960s. it became apparent that the oil companies were not going to continue to support research to the extent they had in the past," said Cramer. "The burden was shifting to the contractors, and fast. Carl had the good judgement to hire competent staff to carry out these expanded requirements. That he was a pretty good judge of character is attested to by the fact that he was 100% responsible for hiring Ken Lamer and Damir Skerl -both of whom have contributed mightily to our success and reputation."

"There is no question in my mind he was a most powerful influence in my life:' says former Western vice-president Ken Larner, now a professor at Colorado School of Mines. "For years I considered him my mentor and then I realized he wasn't my mentor-he was mentor to many people."

"He changed my life with one phone call," says Dami Skerl, who was a senior vice-president of Western Geophysical and is now president of the Western Atlas Logging Services Division. "I was desperate. I had a one-way ticket to the U.S. (from what is now Croatia) to look for a job, and my visa had expired. When I walked into the Western Geophysical lobby on December 23, 1968, I had no work and no ticket back. Carl hired me and called the Immigration and Naturalization Service to have my visa changed. He asked me if I had the $10 filing fee; I said I did not. So he gave me a company check and I went to the immigration office the next morning for my visa. There is no word in English or any other language that can express the significance of that action on me and my family."

Technically Carl was very astute. "His technical instincts were uncanny," says Levin. "We rarely disagreed concerning scientific matters, but when we did, I had an uneasy feeling that he was right and I was wrong." But Carl's scope of interests extended far beyond science and even became one of his trademarks. One could ask him a question on classical music, baseball, the theater, medicine, sociology, literature, printing, or anything else and he'd have an answer. He was a renaissance man, a beacon in the industry, a mentor to the people working with him, and a legend in his unfailing devotion and adoration toward his wife, Sandy, who referred to him as "the boyfriend." As Larner put it, "Would that we could all enjoy life as he did."


Carl is survived by his wife of 49 years, Sandra Kaplan Savit; children Mark N. Savit and wife Kim, Deborah Joan and husband Andrew Pearlman, Judy Savit and husband Larry Simon; grandchildren Joshua Savit, Micah Pearlman, Darcy Savit, Adina Pearlman, Zachary Savit, Jessica Simon, Cela Pearlman, Kyle Simon; a host of friends and relatives.

Western Geophysical has established the Carl Savit Scholarship Fund, which will be administered through the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Scholarship Committee and awarded to the top geosciences candidate. Contributions may be sent to the SEG Business Office at P.O. Box 702740, Tulsa, OK 74170-2740 and indicated for the Carl Savit Scholarship Fund.

A personal note from Rhonda Boone

A personal note from the author: With his curiosity, sense of humor; and delight in the ordinary, one never knew what Carl might find worthy of attention. Carl hired me for Western's Art Department in 1974 and I worked for him until his retirement in 1986. One day early on, as I stood nervously outside the office of my new boss, a group gathered nearby to discuss the sound made by a rooster: That's right, a rooster. Carl wandered out to participate in the discussion (as he was wont to do), and told everyone to be quiet, that he would demonstrate the soundproperly. The group hushed, the vicepresident of technology for the world's largest seismic company put his thumbs to his armpits, waggled his elbows, extended his neck, and in his legendary dulcet tones, let out a rooster crow that reverberated for an eternity down the hallway. Heads immediately popped from doorways and laughter echoed in the offices. "That," said Carl Savit, beaming at his own prowess, "is the sound a rooster makes!" I laughed too, and my nervousness disappeared. This was going to be a very fun job. - R.B.

Virgil Kauffman Medal (1979) bio by Norman S. Neidell

In awarding Honorary Membership to Carl H. Savit, the 1979 recipient of the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal award, the Honors and Awards Committee would appear to be establishing a tradition. Carl, however, is one of those rare individuals whose day-to-day achievements year in and year out advance the state of the art and bring credit to our profession.

Carl's lucid and interesting presentations have made him known to virtually all geophysicists. He has been such a visible and able spokesman for the profession and the industry so often that we may not place his technical accomplishments in a proper perspective. Indeed, he has served as assistant for earth, sea and air sciences to the President's Science Advisor, but he is also a scientist who has authored 28 issued U. S. patents with corresponding patents in other countries. One of these patents describes the SEG standard "A" Format, a format so familiar that few recollect how it evolved. So it is with much of Carl's work it has become too familiar and we forget its origins...

Starting at the California Institute of Technology with a B.S. degree in 1942 his career progressed with purpose and direction. While a graduate student, he worked briefly with the Air Force in meteorology and as an Air Force official on upper atmospheric physics. In 1948 he joined Western Geophysical Co. of America. From chief mathematician he advanced to senior vice-president, technology, the post he holds today.

We became most interested in his accomplishments after he joined Western because they relate to exploration geophysics. Here Carl demonstrated an intuition which caused him to focus on technology which would always stand him in advance of the industry. For example, during the early 1950s he recognized a need to determine interval velocities from seismic data in a routine way. He developed such a method which featured the ability to accommodate variable survey configurations. A specially prepared slide rule also treated computations for curved ray paths.

Later in 1950, he developed the first method of joint use of reflection and refraction information including a way to determine the normal depth to a refractor from unreversed profiles. Work of this type has only quite recently become an area for research and development. Four or five of his patents during this period dealt with the first, and for many years the only practical method of accurately handling 24-fold CDP data from analog tapes.

Toward the end of the 1950s Carl was concerned with the role of seismic amplitudes and "Bright Spots" while most of the rest of us were seeking to obliterate such information in the name of reflector continuity. His papers in Geophysics and the Oil and Gas Journal document his foresight which again has now become second nature to us all. In 1960 he was named a Classic Author of Geophysics.

During the 1960s Carl's projects included the first use of multitrace reflection and refraction shooting (including CDP work) in the deep ocean, and participation in the design and development of the first array processor by IBM. Most recently we see his attention turned toward systems having large numbers of channels and color displays. If the past and Carl's insights in particular are any guide to the future, we can confidently predict the roles that these will soon play. Litton Industries this year awarded him their Advanced Technology Achievement Award for precisely these reasons and in recognition of his scientific acumen.

All of this work has been done against a background of voluntary service both to the profession and the industry. Carl has served as President of SEG, Editor of Geophysics, and General Chairman for an SEG Annual International Meeting. He has been president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors and chairman of the board of the National Ocean Industries Association. The governments, boards, panels, associations and societies which have had the benefit of his counsel are too numerous to list. He left a positive and valuable contribution in every instance.

Yet despite these many undertakings, Carl has raised a fine family and maintained his sense of proportion and good nature. I have known him as a competitor, teacher, colleague, and coworker. It has been a privilege to have seen him in each of the varying contexts. No honor awarded by our Society has been earned with greater effort nor is more richly deserved.

Presidential candidate bio of appeared in Geophysics, Vol. 36, No. 2, April 1971

Carl H. Savit, candidate for President, has been an active member of SEG for 21 years. As the most recent Past-Editor (1968 and 1969) of GEOPHYSICS, he is currently Chairman of the Publications Committee. Previous to being Editor he was Reviews Editor for six years. In addition to chairing the Reviews and Distinguished Lectures Committees, Carl has served or is serving as a working member of the Scholarship, Digital Recording Standards, Cooperation with Government Agencies, Translations, Glossary, and Oceanography Committees. In the Pacific Section of SEG, he was Vice-President and Program Chairman. He chaired the Publications Committee for the 34th Annual Meeting. Carl has been the designated representative of SEG to testify at two congressional hearings and to address the biennial meeting of the AMGE in Monterrey, Mexico, as well as to report on advances in geophysics to the 1970 annual meeting of AAPG.

Carl?s professional activities have resulted in many published papers and issued patents dealing with both applied and "academic" geophysics. One of those papers was voted a "Classic of Geophysics" in the 25th anniversary issue of GEOPHYSICS, and one of his patents covers the digital recording method which SEG has incorporated into its standard digital recording format, SEG

During World War II and immediately after, Carl worked in statistical meteorology and immediately after, Carl worked in statistical meteorology and in upper atmosphere physics. In 1948 he joined Western Geophysical becoming vice-president in 1965. In 1970 he took a leave of absence from Western to join the White House Staff as Assistant to the President?s Science Adviser. His responsibilities encompass the sciences of the earth, sea, and air, and most recently he was appointed chairman of the Interagency Committee on Atmospheric Sciences.

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